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It’s not food if ...

It’s not food if it’s served through the window of your car.”
“It’s not food if it’s called by the same name in every language.” (Think Big Mac, Cheetos or Pringles.)

Michael Pollan Offers 64 Ways to Eat Food

Do you have any rules?

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  1. I can't eat anything with a really stupid name - like a 'Bubba Chicken Sandwich', on a steakhouse chain menu. All of their sandwiches have stupid names, and I just feel stupid ordering something like that. I can't even tell you which chain, it's been so long since I've eaten there, the 'naming' makes me uncomfortable. This is one example at one restaurant, there are many other silly food names at many other restaurants.

    3 Replies
    1. re: jeanmarieok

      That reminds me: A couple of decades ago, my family and I would go to Denny's every so often and I would order a breakfast sandwich called, "Moons over My Hammy"...or something along those lines. I was nine-years-old and I still remember cringing when I actually had to say those words to the server. Now I cringe if I have to go to Denny's at all, but that's another topic :)

      1. re: Melanie

        Haha... going there late night in college instead of a dinner, I would do the opposite.

        I would order it BECAUSE of the name and I liked to sound like a moron!

        1. re: Melanie

          Hehe! IHOP has the "Rooty Tooty Fresh 'n Fruity", another cringe-worthy menu item.

        1. Then the Quarter Pounder with Cheese is safe, 'cuz it's a "Royale with cheese" in France (nods to Pulp Fiction).

          3 Replies
          1. re: nofunlatte

            I make a cocktail called a Royale with Cheese. I make a crown with a splash of water with a cheedar wedge on the rim. I did get a mild chuckle.

            1. re: DallasDude

              Thanks for the garnishing tip--I like the idea of cocktails with cheese wedges.

            2. re: nofunlatte

              Very first thing I thought of when reading the "same name" rule.

            3. Don't eat anything blue.

              There is no naturally grown food that is truly the color blue. And before someone asks, "what about blueberries!?" They aren't blue, they're purple, and purple is fine. If food is truly blue, it is either dye or mold. The one exception is viened cheese, which is controlled mold.

              7 Replies
              1. re: Shane Greenwood

                Purple potatoes look pretty blue to me and the veins of blue cheese come to mind.

                1. re: KTinNYC

                  Well, that just proves the point -- blue cheese isn't food. :-)

                  1. re: Val

                    Blue corn, like blueberries, is not really blue, but more purplish. But maybe some are more blue. By avoid blue foods, I mean that solid blue color that is used in processed food, often to signify the "flavor" of raspberry for some reason. The color blue is pretty common in candy too. A chef I worked for taught me the bit about blue food. He was teaching me Garde Manger and said that blue was the most unappetizing color because humans are hard-wired to avoid eating blue things since blue equals spoilage in the natural world. Maybe it's not a 100% rule, but I like it. I don't think we should get that specific about Pollan's or posters' rules anyway. I think this is all meant to be cute advice at best. You could probable toss a "nuh-uh" at everything if you thought about it too much.

                    1. re: Shane Greenwood

                      this is why the culinary band-aids are bright blue-- they can't disappear into food the way the fake "caucasian flesh color" bandages do. there is a funny CHEF! episode about this.

                  2. re: Shane Greenwood

                    He hits the blueberries and the blue cheese argument in one fell swoop.

                  3. I like Michael Pollan's work, and he has certainly had a big impact on how I think about food policy, but this "cutesy rules" schtick is getting a little old.

                    5 Replies
                    1. re: jlafler

                      I heard him interviewed this week and he claimed that he got the idea from people asking him to put together smaller then his other books, essentially a pamphlet. Whether this is true or not I don't know but I'm sure Pollan is happy enough to have another book earning him some money.

                      But I think the best rule and the one that would serve us best is "If your grandmother (or anyone's grandmother or great grandmother for the very young readers) doesn't recognize it as food, it's not food." This will take care of 90% of the crap.

                      1. re: KTinNYC

                        I don't know who these phantom grandparents are, the ones who grind their own wheat or whatever. My grandmother, b. 1912, was a big consumer of Velveeta, margarine (she kept a kosher home) and whatever packaged cookies were on sale. Michael Pollan would not have approved.

                        1. re: small h

                          Pollan doesn't say you should necessarily eat what grandma ate, but that if she couldn't recognize it as food, you should pass on it. He use these sayings as a way to differentiate food from "edible food-like substances". One example is that the "New, Improved" Fruit Loops have a banner label shouting "no cholesterol" (never mind that the box is 1/3 sugar), while the broccoli sits there quietly in the produce section.

                          1. re: Rmis32

                            My grandmother absolutely recognized Velveeta as food. She ate it, after all. I'm a great admirer of Pollan, but I roll my eyes at slogans that are catchier than they are useful or accurate. "Eat food, not too much, mostly plants" is one I can get behind, though.

                            1. re: small h

                              It's a VERY good rule to remember...2 1/2 years ago, my son's gastroenterologist recommended "crowd your plate with vegetables/fruits" at every meal...somewhat similar...we need to eat more plants.

                    2. I'm a 'nose to tail' guy who growls at Andrew Zimmern (Bizarre Foods) --- thinking I could do his show better...
                      But some things I think just aren't food--- like some disgusting 2' long wet slimy worm that lives in a dead log on the beach...

                      Anything that is eaten just to keep from starving to death is not necessarily food...

                      1. I guess the only rule I adhere to is the one where I remind myself that the food in the refrigerated section of the .99 cent store ISN'T really food. This reminder usually helps me with any temptation I might have of purchasing the short-dated or expired products sitting in those cases just to save a few coins. Also add this, "It's not food if ... it's still moving".

                        1. It's not food if it is looking back at you, and winks.

                          2 Replies
                          1. re: DallasDude

                            Sorry, I love food meat as well as veggies as rare as possible. Also I subscribe to a moto of, as non PC it may be, the more cute the animal, the better they taste. Lamb and Bunny come to mind.

                            1. re: chris2269

                              Don't get me wrong, I would eat Bugs Bunny.

                          2. It's not food ..."if you can use it as trout bait." Velveeta cheese growing up was the best trout bait ever. Stayed on the hook worked better than Zeek's or Salmon eggs and more time than most could be reused after a catch. After growing up with that I can not eat it.

                            1. It’s not food if it's not natural. Period.

                              4 Replies
                              1. re: moxion

                                What's natural? If I you have to add lye to to make it palatable is it still natural? How about salt curing or smoking? There is nothing "natural" about these either. I'm not trying to be argumentative but ther are plenty of foods we consume that chemically processed that we all think is perfectly acceptable.

                                1. re: KTinNYC

                                  "that we all think is perfectly acceptable"... and that's well the problem here. Hence the discussion and my reply about "it's not food if...".

                                  1. re: moxion

                                    So olives aren't food? Bacon, ham? Hominy? These aren't foods in your view? They are for me.

                                2. re: moxion

                                  That must leave out cheese, yogurt, beer, wine, ...

                                3. How about these (semi-humorous):

                                  1. It’s not food if it doesn’t smell like what it is.
                                  2. It’s not food if it says it’s food (ie: “cheese food”).
                                  3. It’s not food if you don’t eat it.
                                  4. It’s not food if the ingredient list is longer than the Gettysburg Address.
                                  5. It’s not food if it screams when you bite it.
                                  6. It’s not food if you find it wedged under the crisper tray in the fridge.

                                  BTW, was watching an episode of “Hoarders” on A&E and this woman was a food hoarder. It was interesting because she was very reluctant to part with a pumpkin she left to rot in her living room, even saying goodbye to it when they threw it away. That was just one example. Her fridge was nauseating. She had packages of cheese, I think, swimming in rotten meat juices, and she swore this cheese was still good to eat!

                                  4 Replies
                                  1. re: cuccubear

                                    She should have proved it by eating it.

                                    1. re: DallasDude

                                      I think she would have if her family hadn't stepped in to throw it away.

                                    2. re: cuccubear

                                      It’s not food if it says it’s food (ie: “cheese food”).

                                      I love that one. I guess thats why my dog is always begging for what I'm eating.

                                      1. re: cuccubear

                                        "Four score and 7 ingredients ago..."

                                        1. Rules have their uses, but because they can be difficult to generalise, it's worth remembering that they are never a complete substitute for thinking and eating critically.

                                          1. Well, I'm dieting, so it's not food unless I'm honestly hungry.
                                            Until then, it's "somebody else's food" or "food for later".

                                            1. Isn't there some kind of story floating around - maybe it was a joke - that somebody couldn't get served a "fish sandwich" at Burger King if they didn't specifically ask for it by the actual menu name of "Whaler?"

                                              1. I think the most important rule is not to obsess about food, in all its guises. Many people who follow strict rules of many stripes are just finding a way to rationalize their eating disorders. I personally know vegetarians, vegans and "clean"/health food enthusiasts who fit this category very starkly.

                                                If you follow strict dietary guidelines and your weight yo-yos dramatically, that's the biggest warning sign.

                                                And if you spend a lot of time looking for recipes to approximate foods on your "forbidden" list (take raw foodists' never-ending mania for developing raw "pizza," "nachos" or desserts), then you need to throw out your rules and focus on developing a healthy attitude towards one of the only true essentials in life -- nourishment.

                                                1. Health reporter chimes in on Pollan's "Rules"
                                                  "Rules Worth Following, for Everyone’s Sake"
                                                  By JANE E. BRODY